How to Unite Your Nonprofit Workforce — and Keep It United Through Misperceptions

Is your nonprofit’s team unbalanced? To correct the balance, there’s some unbiased actions that need to happen.

How to Unite Your Nonprofit Workforce — and Keep It United Through Misperceptions
7 mins read

To correct nonprofit imbalance, there’s some unbiased actions that need to happen.

Our teams work from different operational levels and knowledge bases than we do. As leaders, we want to consider all these perspectives and areas: research, operations, programming, etc. If we start to focus on our “slice” of the work and our knowledge of it myopically, or value our area of the work over others’, how we approach the work can get out of balance, which can lead to frustration or breakdown of team ability at best—and toxicity at worst.

If you’re feeling the negative effects of a team being unbalanced, that probably means the issue has been unfurling for a while for it to finally make it up to you. To correct the balance, there’s some unbiased actions that need to happen. By unbiased, I mean that you should distance yourself from the need to assume you know what’s going on.

Start fresh with curiosity and the assumption that everyone means well. When you finally get to a place where you begin to talk to your staff about the issue, let them know no one is in trouble—you just want to know what’s happening to promote the continued health of the team.

Misunderstandings and imbalance happen to any team. With some small and gentle routines, you can greatly minimize these imbalances and prevent deep fractures in your team. The goal is to establish practices that keep your team performing together with respect, trust, and the desire raise all ships with the tide.

Here are a few suggestions to leaders to address this mismatch of perceptions in knowledge levels and ability among teams:

  1. Reciprocate the effort received. If you’ve not read my blog post about the concept of the well of reciprocity, I highly recommend becoming familiar with this topic. We refer to the well of reciprocity often at Food Recovery Network (FRN) to describe how relationships are constantly in motion and deserve maintenance. Remember, if you’re hearing about an issue, it’s been brewing for a while and has likely become very nuanced. Use this understanding as you pinpoint where the issue lies.
  2. Identify whose role supports solutions to improving team dynamics. Note that person is not always you. For example, have you come to understand that a manager is often ignoring or letting slide small imbalances instead of providing respectful feedback to their team? Does this manager need more tools to tackle the issue, such as a role-playing practice to give feedback? Do they need to add feedback as a line item in their individual check in meetings with their team?
  3. Be upfront with your staff. Let them know that you’ve become aware of the imbalance and that you’re working to address the issue. Team dynamics are everyone’s responsibility, and letting your team know you’re active in bringing harmony back to the team provides transparency. Emphasize that no one is in trouble—quite the opposite. The goal is to understand why the imbalance and massage that imbalance out.
  4. Provide insights from your perspective. I use our staff meetings to “talk from the balcony” about what I am seeing and what our COO is seeing: thoughtful, smart, and well-intentioned people working hard. The balcony is an altitude to provide genuine thanks and appreciation to your team. From the balcony, you can provide to your team updates on what’s on each team member’s plate. At FRN, we’re very transparent about the work we’re all engaged in. I address workflow specifically: Insights from the balcony help remind the full team we are all carrying important work happening at different places, spaces, and paces.
  5. Approach the problem collaboratively. I often tap specific team members ahead of an all-staff team to let them know I’m going to use an interaction as an example. That way, they have a heads up and contribute to the conversation. Use real team examples instead of hypotheticals. For example, our team recently discussed our attempt to launch what we thought was a small communications project that went off the rails. People were not assigned specific tasks, and no one knew who the lead was to see the project through. It was helpful for others not involved on that project to hear this debrief because they could apply that learning to their own projects.
  6. Ask about yourself. When was the last time you received feedback from your team on your performance? If it’s been a while, consider telling your team this, and encourage them to visit you with anything that is on their mind. Remember to keep your door, your mind, and your heart, open.

Team dynamics change for any number of reasons, whether it’s that our projects change, people come onto or off our teams, or as we close in on goals.

Promoting a healthy and vibrant workplace ensures everyone can be their best selves at work—and ensures that when people cannot be their best, our whole organization doesn’t languish.

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About the Author

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Regina Anderson Regina Anderson joined Food Recovery Network (FRN) as the Executive Director in 2015. In this role, Regina is responsible for setting the vision, strategy, and fundraising efforts for FRN, which seeks to recover food to feed everyone who is food insecure in the United States.

Having worked in the nonprofit sector for more than twenty years, Regina is committed to social justice issues because she believes two things: this sector can make the biggest difference and people are the engines of positive change. At Independent Sector and LIFT in Washington, DC, Regina worked to raise awareness of the nonprofit sector’s abilities to solve our society’s most complex issues, including structural poverty. Regina received her MA in Literary and Cultural Studies from Carnegie Mellon University as well as her BA in English Literature from the University of Maine at Augusta. Regina sits on the Board of Directors of Food Tank and RegenAll and is a member of Pink Noise Projects, a Philadelphia-based artist collaborative.

Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.

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